Two prominent Catholics have now been invited to pray, and speak, at the Republican and Democratic national conventions: Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York and the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops; and Sister Simone Campbell, S.S.S., director of Network, a Catholic social justice organization. Inviting two such prominent Catholics has riled up those who feel that religion does not belong in politics, much less in a political convention. Tempers have flared, op-eds have been written, teeth have been gnashed.
Party bigwigs face a seemingly intractable problem: You need someone to pray at your convention, and you want to appeal to Catholic voters, but a prominent Catholic will only raise controversy.
So let me set forth a (satirical, in case you haven't figured that out) solution: invite someone not so well known. And I have a suggestion: me. For a small fee, I will address one (or, fingers crossed, both) conventions and will do a fine job. Here is a (by no means exhaustive) list of my qualifications, plus why I’ll get out the vote for your party, should I be invited by your wonderful party, which, by the way, I have always supported.
1.) I pray a lot. A lot. Like, several times a day. For example, I have memorized both the Hail Mary and Our Father, as well as the Salve Regina (which I can sing in Latin—wouldn’t that be cool onstage?) not to mention the prayers of the Mass. Or at least I used to know the prayers of the Mass until they changed everything. Now I can barely make it through the Nicene Creed without looking at those little cards in the pews. Anyway, I’m a good pray-er. So you’ll get the religious vote. That’s what, like 50 million people? Not bad, huh? Starting to see the wisdom of my proposal? Thought so.
2.) I’ll keep my prayer super-short. One minute tops. Believe me, everyone likes a short prayer. Just like they like short homilies and sermons. As we were taught in our preaching class: Be clear, be brief, be gone. Do you think Cardinal Dolan or Sister Simone will keep it under a minute? Please. For every minute they go over, you’ll probably lose a million votes. With me, on the other hand, you’ll win the crucial short-attention-span voters. In other words, everyone under the age of 30. So what, like 10 million votes? See how it's adding up already?
3.) I speak Spanish. ¡Sí! Well, mas o menos. If you invite me to your convention, I promise that fully half of my one-minute prayer will be in español, which is bound to cement the Hispanic vote for you. That’s tens of millions of people right there. ¡De nada!
4.) I’ll be sure not to offend anyone with my prayer. Look, I’ve attended enough ecumenical, interfaith and multicultural events (and even ones with agnostics and atheists hanging around) to know how to pray without annoying anybody. For example, I could say “God” instead of “Jesus” if you’d like. Or I could conclude with “In your name,” which is nice and vague. You’ll win the agnostic/seeker/doubter vote: that’s got to be at least ten million people. Amen. Or rather: The End.
5.) I’m a Jesuit, so you’ll get the Jesuit vote. Well, most of them. Or at least many. Okay, some.
6.) I’m on good terms with Cardinal Dolan and Sister Simone, so I’ll be able to console them when they hear the admittedly disappointing news about their having been replaced by someone else. This might pose something of a "conflict of interest" or a "boundary issue," as we say in counseling circles (since, technically, I'm the one who's replacing them) but I’m really good at pastoral counseling, and a good listener, too, so I will be able to say sensitive things like “You sound frustrated” and “You must have been angry when you found out, huh?” And then I’ll nod compassionately.
7.) I’m really good at finding common "prayer-ground" for Jewish and Christian audiences, which is not always easy. One word: psalms. Everyone likes those. Except the really depressing ones about killing and slaughtering and bashing people’s heads on the rocks, and Og, the King of Bashan. I’ll avoid those (though, in my experience, Og is usually a crowd pleaser) and stick with the happier psalms, about sunshine and moonbeams and things of that nature. Really, who doesn’t like a cheerful psalm? That’s good for about three million votes at least, I figure. Republican and Democrat, praise the Lord!
8.) My mom thinks I’m a good public speaker (most of the time). So that’s one vote. But she has a ton of friends.
9.) I don’t charge a lot. Really. I’m very reasonable. Just my airfare (I’ve never flown First Class and that would be fantastic, thanks) and a decent hotel (and I promise not to rent too many movies). And all my money goes to the Jesuits, since I take a vow of poverty. So no financial shenanigans on my part. When you hand over that check you can rest easy. Priceless, right?
10.) I'm really good at meeting new people, so I’m sure that I could make President Obama and Governor Romney feel comfortable around me. To that end, I would promise not to mention (a) birth certificates or (b) dogs. Plus, I’m sure I’d get along great with Congressman Ryan and Vice-President Biden, who, as you’ll remember, are Catholic, just like me. We’d all get along great because, as you know, we Catholics agree on everything.
Call me. Did I mention I work at America magazine? Is that patriotic or what?
James Martin, SJ